Story of the Chosen People - Helene Guerber




The Death of Moses

The Israelites, delivered from the poisonous serpents, next went through the country east of the Dead Sea, and fought against the people who refused to let them pass. They won a brilliant victory this time, and gained possession of part of the land which was to belong to them. This battle was soon followed by another, in which they defeated the giant king Og, and killed his children and people. The Israelites also won much spoil from him, among other things an iron bedstead thirteen and a half feet long, which they kept as a proof of his great size.

Then the Chosen People encamped in the desert plain of Moab, to the great dismay of Balak, the king of that country. He did not dare attack such powerful enemies openly, so he sent for Balaam, a prophet of the true God, and promised him a large sum of money if he would only curse the people of Israel.

Balaam, tempted by the offered reward, consented, but God spoke to him and said: "Thou shalt not go with them; thou shalt not curse the people; for they are blessed." But in spite of this warning, Balaam was so anxious to get the money promised him that he set out with Balak, intending to curse the Israelites, although God warned him to do only as he was told. On the way to the heights upon which he was to stand while speaking this curse, the ass which Balaam rode shied twice, and each time saved him from the sword of an angel. But Balaam did not see why the ass stopped in a gateway, and he beat the poor animal until it turned and spoke to him. At the same moment God opened Balaamís eyes, so that he saw the angel with the sharp sword.

Balaam was so frightened then that he would gladly have gone home, but the messenger of God told him to go on, warning him, however, to speak no words except those which the Lord would put into his mouth.

Balak and Balaam went up three hills, one after another, and three times Balaam opened his mouth to speak the desired curse. But each time God changed the words of this curse into a blessing, because he was watching over the people of Israel, whom he still loved in spite of all their sins.

Then, still speaking as God wished, Balaam foretold the coming of the promised Messiah, or king, and the victories and conquests of the Israelites. Although he had thus been forced, against his will, to foretell the greatness of the Israelites, and although he knew that God was with his people, Balaam soon made a second attempt to harm them, by tempting the men to disobey Godís orders, and to take wives from among the Moabites.

To punish the people for this disobedience, God sent another terrible plague, which carried off twenty-four thousand Israelites. Indeed, it did not stop raging until Moses made a law whereby all those who disobeyed were punished by immediate death.

By Godís order, Moses now took a second census of the men of Israel. In spite of all the sufferings they had endured in the wilderness, he found that they numbered only eighteen hundred and twenty less than when they left the land of Egypt forty years before.

Joshua was now chosen and publicly named as the successor of Moses; and the tribes of Reuben and Gad received the land which had just been conquered. Before it was given to them, however, they had to promise that their best warriors should march at the head of the Israelite army until all the land was won.

The work of Moses was finished. He therefore bade the people come together to receive his last blessing and made them a solemn farewell speech. In it he reminded them of all that God had done for them in the wilderness. He repeated the prophecies about their future, and the law, and then broke out into a grand song of thanksgiving.

Moses next blessed the awed and waiting people, and then, having received his last summons, he went up Mount Nebo, from whose top God pointed out to him the land promised to his people.

It was here, on the lonely mountain top, that Moses, the servant of God, died; and we are told that God himself laid his body to rest. No one ever knew the place where Moses was buried, but the people mourned him for thirty days before they thought of making their way into the beautiful land which he had seen, although he was never allowed to enter it.